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Girlhood - BFI Flare

Saturday 21 March 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

Whatever you do, you will always be some man’s bitch. This is an observation coolly relayed by a female character in Céline Sciamma’s five-act drama, set in the outskirts of present day Paris and centring on a sixteen year old girl. Every scene of Girlhood (Bande de Filles) resists and subverts this pernicious epigram as we follow the cruel trajectory of protagonist Marieme, who becomes known as Vic while she graduates from girl gang member to professional drug supplier. This is taut, artful film-making and social realism par excellence: as successful a study in the colour blue as it is an essay on choices facing young working-class women of colour in metropolitan Europe today.

Film being a time-based medium, it is always thrilling to realise a few minutes in, and to have it confirmed a few minutes later, that you are watching the real deal: cinema that is technically meticulous and pulsing with truth. Although the first couple of sequences in Girlhood are arresting and fresh, it was the sight of a small child eating pasta in a certain way and the seemingly effortless realisation of her domestic context that gave me the nod. This masterful naturalism, particularly in relation to eating food, is the hallmark of good French cinema but it is significant how much vitality is brought to the classic method when the subject has a clear and determined socio-political intent. So formally and thematically consistent is Girlhood that it can get away with presenting a blue-lit, lip-synched Rihanna song in its entirety, the first few bars delivered straight to camera, without faltering in narrative or tone. This scene alone could occupy a whole chapter of a film studies thesis.

Karidja Touré as Marieme/Vic fervently reincarnates a hero who is fully recognisable within the history of art-house cinema since its very first wave: the gutsy kid (‘solide et solitaire’ in the words of another character) up against the system. And yet every movement Vic makes, every reaction she gives, seems entirely new: because it is. And it’s not just the protagonist: the centre of Paris is new, shoplifting is new: even mini-golf is new. For in Girlhood, there is no truth like the present.

Dir. Céline Sciamma, 2014

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